She’s just a little girl (not) from Little Rock, and he’s a bright young thing who’d like to give her more than a Continental kiss on the hand. Their story is purportedly based in fact, but did that blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe (Williams) really fall for third assistant director Colin Clark (Redmayne) on the set of Laurence Olivier’s 1957 romantic comedy, The Prince and the Showgirl? Simon Curtis’s watchably third-rate biopic doesn’t try to sort out truth from fabrication; that would be like ‘teaching Urdu to a badger’, as the short-tempered Olivier – played by a whole-hog-slicing Branagh – might say. Better to print the legend and be done with it.
And who has a more buxomly built-in mythology than Monroe, who could captivate an audience with one knowing wink? The very talented Michelle Williams does a spot-on impersonation of the starlet, from her shimmy-shake gait to her gasping-for-air snicker. But she also manages to show how Monroe’s calculated surface effects masked a soul tortured by uncertainty and the pressures of the spotlight. Williams brings a raw, unpredictable energy to all her scenes, especially those in which Monroe is subjected to skin-crawlingly patronising insults from Olivier, or when she finds a surprising friend in the jaded grande dame Sybil Thorndike (a witty bit of mimicry by Judi Dench). She almost makes you forget that My Week with Marilyn is little more than a For Your Consideration ad stretched to feature length.